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(New York) - The Indonesian government’s plan in Aceh to register and relocate more than 100,000 people displaced by the tsunami to semi-permanent camps threatens their right to return home, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First said today. The Indonesian government needs to ensure that any relocation program in the province fully respects the rights of the displaced people.

The Indonesian government announced that as early as February 15 it could begin to move up to a quarter of the 400,000 people displaced by the tsunami in Aceh into semi-permanent, barracks-style shelters.

Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First expressed concern that the new camps could be misused by the military as a way of controlling the population for military purposes unless human rights safeguards are put in place. During years of the brutal armed conflict in the northwestern Sumatra province, the Indonesian military has a record of housing Acehnese displaced by the conflict in secure camps where at times their freedom of movement has been unnecessarily restricted and where serious human rights violations have taken place.

Given the military’s poor human rights record in Aceh, its prominent role in the transport of thousands of Acehnese from spontaneous camps to the barracks sites, involvement in camp management, and aid distribution within barracks would invariably create fears among the displaced population. This could prevent displaced persons from making a free and informed choice on relocation, including the option of returning to their place of origin. The participation of the police paramilitary brigade (Brimob) would raise similar fears due to its history of abuses in Aceh.

“In the context of the war in Aceh, a military presence at the camps can be a form of intimidation and abusive control,” said Neil Hicks, Director of International Programs at Human Rights First. “Although the military has played a sometimes welcome role in the emergency phase after the tsunami, their involvement in the relocations should be minimized and civilian agencies alone should run the camps.”

On Sunday, January 30, the Indonesian government began the process of registering people displaced by the tsunami for relocation. The registration appears intended to collect data on this displaced population—also referred to as internally displaced persons (or IDPs)—that in part would be used to identify displaced persons for relocation to the shelters for up to two years.

According to the Indonesian military’s “Broad Plan on Natural Disaster Relief and Control of Displaced Persons in [Aceh] Province,” military forces will be involved in surveying “numbers and locations of displaced persons (DP), planning/preparations for relocation…[and] displacement of DPs to DP camps that have been developed.”

At least a third of those displaced by the tsunami in Aceh now live in spontaneous camp sites, while others are staying in public buildings, such as schools and mosques, or with relatives. The Indonesian government has promised a monthly stipend to support displaced persons living with host families. But the authorities have not issued a clear commitment to support those who choose to return to their places of origin immediately.

Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First called on the Indonesian government continue to seek a range of durable solutions for Aceh’s displaced population.

“In its haste to solve the problem of shelter the government is failing to inform the displaced population of their options,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These people have already lost much to the tsunami, but they still have the right to weigh in on how and where they are going to live in the future.”

According to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, displaced persons should be relocated only with full and informed consent. The Guiding Principles specifically cover persons forced or obliged to flee as a result of "natural or human-made disasters."

Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First raised concerns that the Indonesian government was registering IDPs without offering them adequate information or proper alternatives about where and how they will be relocated. While some IDPs currently living in crowded tents in spontaneous temporary camps may prefer the option of relocation to barracks, the government registration form omits other options. Options could include a return to one’s home area, staying in the current location, or resettling to another part of the province or country.

Many displaced persons have yet to receive information about the imminent relocation plans. To ensure a free and informed choice, the Indonesian government should initiate a mass information campaign and establish a registration and decision-making process that allows families to choose from a full range of options. International involvement in monitoring the registration would help ensure transparency of the process and protection of the data.

“The Indonesian government needs to clarify who will carry out the registration of individuals, what the information will be used for, and who will have access to this data during and after the process,” said Adams. “We are concerned this information could be used to target alleged separatist supporters and deny them humanitarian aid.”

The relocation shelters are thatched wooden buildings up to 90 feet long, divided into two rows of 12-by-15 foot rooms. The relocation is intended to provide shelter for as long as two years while homes are rehabilitated or reconstructed. Where barracks are the chosen solution, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First called on the Indonesian government to ensure that the construction and maintenance of the barracks met with minimum standards found in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. These include appropriate site selection, proximity to livelihood and education opportunities.

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